PHOTOJAANIC PHOTOBOOK GRANT 2016
We are pleased to announce the result for the Photojaanic Photobook Grant 2016. The grant has been awarded to the project – Life after Ritwik Ghatak – by the grandaunt-grandniece duo Surama Devi and Nabarupa Bhattacharjee. We received some high quality proposals from a spread of backgrounds and topics. We are grateful to all the applicants for sharing their ideas with us and look forward to supporting them in the future.
The selected photobook project will explore the memories of 90-year old Surama Devi, wife of filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak. The authors seek to understand the presence and impact of Ritwik Ghatak in their lives long after his death. Ghatak (1925 – 1976) was a Bengali filmmaker and scriptwriter known for his contribution to independent cinema in India, and is considered a legend in the Indian film industry. One of the pioneering directors along with prominent film-makers Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, Ghatak’s cinema is remembered for its meticulous depiction of social reality.
Ghatak’s personal life is known to be turbulent. His alcoholism forced his wife to separate from him and take on the hardships of bringing up their three children. Despite the separation, Ghatak continues to impact and influence the life of his family. Naparupa will explore this aspect through the memories shared by Surama. While a lot has been written on the life and work of the filmmaker (including two books by Surama Devi), this photobook will be a first to present a photo based narrative about Ghatak.
We speak to Nabarupa about the inspiration, idea and possible outcome of their project.
What is the story you seek to tell through the project?
The idea is to give a visual narration of the life and time of Surama Devi and the invisible presence of Ritwik Ghatak in our lives. By revisiting old memories, we seek to find the story of Surama Ghatak’s life after her husband, Ritwik Ghatak.
What inspired the idea?
I was inspired to do this visual narrative by watching and reading about filmmaker Satyajit Ray. He loved Ritwik Ghatak. In fact, he was one of the founders of the Ritwik Ghatak Memorial Trust. While a lot has been written about the late filmmaker, there is surprisingly little visual material about him and his family in the public domain. My vision is, with his wife, to make a photobook on the legend.
Tell us a bit about the collaboration. What will you do? What will your grandaunt do?
The collaboration is between the wife of the late filmmaker and her grandniece. We will explore the life of Ritwik Ghatak through the experience and point of view of Surama Ghatak. She will share her insights about her journey with her husband, what she expected when she married him and what took place thereafter and how that shapes her present.
Tell us a bit about growing up with Surama Devi.
Surama Devi is like any grandmother you will find. Yet she is way apart from many, as she was fiercely independent in her own thoughts. We shared a very open relationship. At one level, she appears free from regular domestication expected of women from her time, and at another level, she is highly duty-bound. I have always been fascinated by this complexity.
Being the wife of an uncompromising artist, her life was not easy specially when the political stress on Bengal was on the rise. She fought against the norms made by society and took up a teaching job to support her three children and alcoholic husband. She is an example of a ‘modern woman’ back in the 50s and 60s who pursued her own career to support her family. Even at this age she reads out of Ghatak’s letters and has a keen interest in Indian and world cinema. She feels concerned about the political system and believes art can be used to raise a voice slowly and silently.
How do you think memories have played a role in shaping your point of view on Ritwik Ghatak? What are your thoughts on his life and work?
Memories are very important. They make you the person you are. My relationship with Surama Devi and her memories helped me understand Ritwik Ghatak. To understand Ritwik is to understand Surama, you need time and observation and a deeper understanding of human troubles. I see Ritwik Ghatak as a social activist more than a filmmaker. He raised a voice for the common man and used cinema as a medium to reach out to people. He considered himself a “people’s artist’. Only a handful truly understand and believe in this perspective today. I know now he suffered from dual personality disorder, even underwent electric shock treatment in a mental hospital. Despite all the challenges, his sense of freedom is very inspiring for me. That is freedom to think, mix with people from different class backgrounds and look beyond man made social divides. His life and work are equally inspiring for me. This is how it should be.
How do you think photography and photobook is a suitable medium to tell the story you seek to tell?
Photography is a very democratic medium, a visual language which is directly understood by the audiences. Thus a photobook serves as one of the greatest pictorial evidence of time and truth. Using the medium of photography and photobook will help me take the story of Ritwik Ghatak to a larger audience. I would like the images to be in black and white, as all the earlier material is monochromatic.
Watch out this space to follow the project.